Type: Trad, 2000 ft, Grade V
FA: Tom Pulaski, Jim Newberry, John Rosholt, and John Pearson, 1976 FFA : Jon Copp and Robbie Williams, Aug. 2001
Page Views: 3,753 total · 18/month
Shared By: Brad Bond on Feb 28, 2002
Admins: Leo Paik, John McNamee, Frances Fierst, Monty, Monomaniac

You & This Route

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Access Issue: Seasonal Raptor Closures Details


This is not an everybody route! The one-star rating is given for the fact that it is a free route that goes up the Painted Wall and makes for a pretty fun adventure -- so long as you don't mind yarding on loose blocks and chossing your way up prickerbush-filled corners for 2000 feet.

The route is mostly 5.8 and 5.9, interspersed with some easier scrambling and two back-to-back crux pitches midway up. While these cruxes go a little slow, the rest of the route can be climbed pretty fast, enabling an efficient team to blast the thing in an easy day if all goes well.

Comparing Journey Through Mirkwood to the Southern Arete, I would say that the cruxes on Mirkwood are harder, but the route overall is not as sustained or enjoyable as the Southern Arete. Therefore, I would say that this is a good route for someone who has done the Southern Arete and wants to do another Painted Wall free route, but isn't psyched to step up to the runnouts on Stratosfear or the Serpent.

The route (reference p.86 of the guidebook):

Start in the same corner system above the river as for Southern Arete, Stratosfear, etc. and climb a few easy pitches to the large meadow 300 feet up the wall.

Walk halfway across the meadow and look for a nice, slightly left-angling crack going up the slab. This is a fun, 200' pitch that ends on a large ledge. Walk down the ledge past fixed pins and bolts to its right side and set up a belay below a broken, right-leaning crack. The topo show two variations for pitch 5, but we just climbed up and right via the path of least resistance -- about 10a on good rock with ok pro. After about 40 feet, the climbing gets easier and lands you in another large meadow and a nice view of the large Forest-Walker corner system above. Here we untied, and 3rd classed up and left across the meadow.

We stayed unroped for the 5.7 chimney (pitch 6), which has a crux thrash through an enormous prickerbush, and the 5.6 pitch leading to the first 5.11 pitch.

Pitch 8. The topo shows this corner as being right-facing, but it actually faces to the left. At any rate, the feature is obvious from below. Climb up the corner, chossy 5.9 at first, and then crank into a 5.11 layback, and reach out right to the creaky "chopper flake" and mantle onto a pedestal and no-hands rest. Follow the line straight up through a flare and roof (10+) to a small ledge below the mighty "Roofs of Mordor."

Pitch 9, the crux. Climb up to the roof. The aid line goes straight up past fixed gear, so step out right and crank up to too good jugs and jams until above the overhang, then sidestep back left to the main line and belay above the roof. This is an awesome feature that looks like 5.13 from below and was rated .12a on the FFA, but there are no moves on it harder than 11a/b (I'm not saying it isn't hard; it's VERY hard, but not .12a). There is a creaky block in the middle of the roof - take care while jamming past this thing.

Pitch 10. Now look up for the peg corner mentioned on the topo. Zigzag your way up to it (5.8/9 R) and belay at a good ledge next to the Hanoi Hilton bivy and a brand new 3/8" bolt.

From the bivy ledge, angle up and right to the enormous, left-facing corner system the leads past the "Horseshoe Overhang" and to the summit. We lost our place on the topo here, but if you stay in the large corner (5.8/9 with lots of bushes and chosswidths) and follow it until it spits you out left about 200' below the summit, you'll be fine.


One set of nuts and TCUs, two each cams up to 3.5", one #4 Camalot; helmet and headlamp, 60 or 70m rope.
Be aware of the chopper flake - could kill, but you don't need to touch it (though it is a bit harder if you don't - but don't!). And the block at the crux is so loose people have fallen out of hand jams behind it. Also, there is a reach that may bump the difficulties up considerably for anyone shorter than 5'11" or so. Aug 14, 2002
I did the 2nd ascent of this route back in the days of steam powered guitars and it felt like a really big route and a really big adventure. We did it in two days nearly all free except for the big roof, which we knew would go free but we were in wall survival mode and had to move on. I am very impressed with Robbie and Jon's all free ascent and feel sure that this will become a one day classic Black route. According to my ancient memory the above topo is a pretty good description and shouldn't lead anyone too far astray. Just remember that when you are in the Black nothing is a given and you and only you are responsible for yourself. YOU DO NOT want to be in the position of needing anyone to come and get you. To date the only rescue plans in the black involve lowering from the top and given the nature of the rock would probably end up being a body retrieval at best.Once again CHEERS to Jon and Robbie for a real plum! Feb 12, 2003
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
Just a note, I took the beta photo during the 1st ascent, according to the stamp on the slide it was 1976, not '77. Feb 18, 2008
Hey Scott can you use a loop on the original and locate them? Feb 29, 2008
Santa Monica, Ca.
YDPL8S   Santa Monica, Ca.
I've tried and seen a few things, but I could use your help on exactly where the route goes in this picture. I'm afraid they might be behind the bush.

I remember looking through my long lens just as Rosholt knocked off a big rock going up into the roofs. We could hear him yell "rock!" from across the canyon. The rock was so big that you could easily see it with your bare eyes. I thought that Pearson was dead, if he had looked up it probably would have hit him square in the face. As it was it barely ticked his nose (which the surgeon at the hospital said should have had stitches, but by the time they had gotten back to Gunny it was too late to stitch). The Undertoad was not out for him that day. Feb 29, 2008
Scott, if you could e-mail me that pic, I could draw in the line and repost it.

JP was lucky, really lucky, that day. If he had not moved when and how he did, it would have been a head shot bullseye. My recollection is that his schnoz was badly mashed and he had to still climb a day and a half more. He was a tough hombre for sure. Mar 1, 2008
Can anyone tell me how many people can bivi at the Hanoi Hilton? Is it as painful as the name suggests? We will be a team of three.

Thanks for any advice on where to bivi on this route. Sep 10, 2008
Ah, the Hanoi Hilton. Does having suffered through a few stays there qualify me to run for president? This bivy site has earned the infamy of this moniker for its renowned accommodations which do not include spaciousness and comfort. The HH bivy is not a ledge but more of a jagged lump on the wall. Three people could make a go of it, but they will likely end up too close for their spouses comfort. Sep 14, 2008
Ben Kiessel  
Brad, Walker and I climbed this last weekend. It was more solid and less bushy than I expected. There were some great pitches and really fun climbing. Climb the Painted Wall, it's not that bad. I would not call it a vertical scree field by any means. Sep 27, 2008
Ben, I would be somewhat careful about making a blanket invitation to everyone to climb on the PW. Your perspective is slightly skewed by climbing established routes that have been cleaned up by a multitude of previous ascents. Step 15 feet to either side and you would experience the PW of the '70s and '80s. It really is a vertical choss pile. And I say that with all respect. Complex route finding is often the crux on PW routes. A 5.10 climber with limited practical experience could easilly wander and die anywhere on that wall. Nov 1, 2008
Ben Kiessel  
You are totally right I can only speak for Journey through Mirkwood (because it is the only Painted Wall route that I have done). I'm sure it was a choss pile before we got on it. But after years of people climbing on it, it is way cleaner and if you stay on route it is not a choss pile anymore. It is still a very big day and a serious climb that is not for everyone.

Ben Nov 19, 2008
Ben, did you do Mirkwood in a day? Nov 22, 2008
Ben Kiessel  
Yes. Nov 27, 2008
Kudos Ben that is a burly day!

Great route! All things considered possibly the best on the PW. Nov 29, 2008